Has anyone you worked with ever told you that you're overreacting or being defensive? If so, you run the risk of being labeled as overly sensitive—and if that happens your co-workers may start cutting you out of the loop, and stop giving you the feedback and criticism necessary to improve your performance at work.
There are two kinds of sensitivities that undermine performance at work: sensitivity to failure and sensitivity to criticism, says Joseph Grenny, co-author of the New York Times best-sellers Crucial Conversations and Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. "The first can cause people to become risk averse or to experience destructive emotions when faced with setbacks and challenges," Grenny says. "The second can cause defensiveness, anger, and relationship conflict—or if a person is in a position of authority, it can cause them to alienate team members and adopt a controlling or authoritarian style."
In other words, folks who have trouble dealing with negative emotions from failure and criticism can potentially get in their own way in the workplace. It's important to be able to manage emotions and look for constructive criticism to keep on improving:
1. You aren't considering the context. According to Halley Bock, CEO and president of Fierce, Inc, people with hypersensitive personalities tend to misinterpret neutral, everyday comments by adding underlying, negative messages. "For example, if a co-worker simply asks someone to pass the stapler, hypersensitive employees may over-analyze the tone or facial expressions and draw the conclusion that the co-worker is angry or perturbed," Bock says.
If a colleague's comments seem a little harsh, remember that you are interpreting your environment differently. Don't be quick to assume that your co-worker must be upset with you personally—maybe she had an especially bad drive into work, has a family member who is sick, or any number of other possibilities.
2. You are reacting not responding. The difference between reacting and responding is when you're quick to react, you fail to take a moment to thoughtfully and deliberately choose how to respond. "Those who overreact to mistakes should intentionally shift their focus from obsessing about blame or attacks on self-worth to focusing exclusively and intentionally on learning," Grenny says.
When it comes to negative criticism, oversensitive people have a tendency to frame the negative feedback as malicious, Grenny says. For instance, you might justify their action by saying, "They are doing it because they're jealous. They're power hungry. They're just mean," he says. And when you catch yourself on this train of thought, stop and ask: "Why would a reasonable, rational and decent person give me this feedback?" he says.
Constructive criticism from a reliable source is a gift. It may be hard to hear, but it's a chance for you to improve and become better than ever at what you do. "If people cannot face failure, they will not innovate. If they can't embrace criticism, they will shut down feedback necessary to improving the capacity to execute well," Grenny says.
3. You find yourself frequently upset at work. There are some proactive coping methods you can take if you find yourself getting worked up frequently. Talking it out can help a lot. Start seeking a support system. "Develop relationships with a few new role-models or mentors to help you," says Susan Fignar, owner of Pur*Sue Inc., a professional training and executive coaching company. Discuss how they grow thicker skin in business and deal with difficult personalities.
Another way to deal is to focus on the positive. "If your co-worker tells you how to do something differently, don't interpret that as vindictiveness. Perhaps he or she wants you to succeed, and is giving you tips on how to do well in the company," Bock says.
Take a deep breath. Go for a run. Write. Do whatever you find cathartic, release, and move on.
Ritika Trikha is a writer for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, salary information, and a free career happiness assessment.